Police in Pekanbaru want to stop HIV prevention NGO’s work over public LGBT paranoia

The secretariat office of the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI) in Pekanbaru.  Photo: Opsi Riau / Facebook
The secretariat office of the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI) in Pekanbaru. Photo: Opsi Riau / Facebook

The office of an NGO focusing on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in the city of Pekanbaru in Riau is facing closure by authorities after members of a hardline Islamist group, along with local residents and police, conducted a raid on the building, allegedly based on suspicions that LGBT “activities” were taking place inside.

The head of Pekanbaru’s Civil Service Police (Satpol PP), Agus Pramono, said that the office, belonging to the secretariat of the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI), should be shut down due to the community’s concerns about their possible support for LGBT behavior.

“If their activity is still troubling the community, just close it and stop. This is related to the serenity of the people,” Agus said after meeting with OPSI representatives at Pekanbaru’s Satpol PP Office.

Agus said that OPSI’s representatives stated that their only goal was to do health consultations for groups vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, specifically sex workers including gay men and transgender individuals.

The Satpol PP chief said that his unit would continue investigate the NGO’s activities in coordination with others including Pekanbaru’s branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and other  religious leaders.

However, Agus made clear that if the NGO was “troubling” the community, the Satpol PP can and would seal the building.

The building’s owner and OPSI’s local chairperson, Ruli Ramadhan, said that he hoped he could better socialize the NGO’s work to the community this year but that the organization would stop all activities at the secretariat until the situation cooled down.

According to its website, OPSI is a a national network of sex workers who work with the government and others organizations on HIV and STI prevention, including the National AIDS Commission.

Tuesday’s raid on OPSI’s Pekanbaru office was justified by claims that local residents had become concerned by “unusual activities” at the house, including music playing late and people coming in-and-out of the building in the night, as well as men wearing women’s clothes, leading them to suspect that it was being used as a place for “LGBT activities”.

Despite homosexual acts not being illegal in Indonesia (except in the province of Aceh, which has special autonomy to enact sharia-based laws), authorities in many cities have, of late, been persecuting LGBT individuals and organizations on the grounds of protecting public morality.

Following the raid, local OPSI head Ruli showed that the office already had proper permits from both the provincial government and the local village administration. He also said that their office was focused on HIV awareness and prevention among vulnerable populations and did not specifically support LGBT rights or activities.

The village head of the neighborhood the office was located in, Supriyadi, confirmed to the media that he had indeed been consulted about the opening of the office and was aware of its HIV/AIDS awareness work.

Authorities displayed some of the “suspicious” evidence found during the raid including condoms (which is, of course, a completely reasonable thing to find at an organization working on HIV prevention) and a “pink” room with Hello Kitty decor.

Reports suggest that the raid and the ensuing media coverage was orchestrated by a member of the Pekanbaru City Council, Mulyadi Anwar.

Some observers believe the recent rise in state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBT community in Indonesia is being pushed by officials trying to score points with conservative voters ahead of this April’s national elections.

As shown in this post on his Facebook page, Mulyadi Anwar is using the raid and the issue of LGBT  as a part of his election campaign.

Mohon dukungan warga Kec Tampan agar Sekretariat ini bisa kita bubarkan… Karena kita tak mau anak2 tersayang kita…

Posted by Mulyadi DPRD on Monday, January 14, 2019

Besides religious objections, anti-LGBT authorities often use the threat of HIV/AIDS as a justification for persecuting members of the protected minority group. However, studies have shown that the fear of discrimination and stigmatization is actually exacerbating the country’s HIV rates by making it less likely for vulnerable populations to receive outreach.

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